Two startup companies based on University of Minnesota research discoveries received national recognition today for their potential to create jobs, advance technology and meet societal challenges in human health and the environment.
Photonic Pharma and ThermChem, both launched by the Office for Technology Commercialization’s Venture Center, were named among the 40 “Best University Startups 2017” by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2), an association of university startup officers.
The U of M startups were chosen by representatives of leading technology-oriented businesses from a group of 200 startups launched by universities across the U.S. They are among the more than 110 companies launched by the Venture Center since 2006. The two companies will present as part of NCET2’s University Startups Conference and Demo Day in Washington, DC, on April 18-20.
Developing a new pharmaceutical therapy isn’t easy. Scientists must screen enormous chemical “libraries” to see which compounds interact with disease-related “target” biomolecules in the right way to move on for further testing. This process narrows down the number of compounds scientists need to study before they find a good drug candidate.
Photonic Pharma, based in Minneapolis, provides industry and academic drug researchers with a more precise system for screening compound libraries to improve the speed and reliability of drug development. The platform uses breakthroughs in fluorescence, which concerns the way molecules absorb and emit light, to let scientists see interactions of compounds with specific targets inside living cells. This technology is designed to transform the early phases of pharmaceutical development. This potential is being demonstrated by Photonic’s recent successful collaboration with a major pharmaceutical company.
Launched in December 2015, Photonic Pharma is based on scientific discoveries by two biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics researchers in the College of Biological Sciences: Razvan Cornea, Ph.D., who is also the company’s cofounder and vice president of research; and David Thomas, Ph.D., who is also the company’s founder and president.
Whether it comes from a home or a farm field, wastewater needs to be processed. Local treatment facilities use a series of sanitation processes to separate out everything from solid waste to organic compounds.
ThermChem, based in Portland, OR, is developing an energy-efficient method for reducing wastewater sludge from municipal and agricultural sewage wastes and recovering lipids, phosphorus and nitrogen to prevent these chemicals from flowing out into the environment. Using hydrothermal carbonization technology—which involves heat, pressure and water—the company processes organic matter from agriculture, food and beverage production; ethanol residues; and sludge from wastewater treatment.
Launched in October 2015, ThermChem is led by Bryan Redd, president and founder, and is based on scientific discoveries by Steven Heilmann, Ph.D., formerly of the U’s BioTechnology Institute (BTI); and Kenneth Valentas, Ph.D., adjunct professor with BTI.